MIAMI LeBron James and the Miami Heat took firm control of the Eastern Conference's second seed with a crushing 100-77 triumph over the Boston Celtics on Sunday.
Using a smothering defensive effort that held Boston to 37 second-half points, the Heat (56-24) moved one game in front of Boston with two games remaining to give them inside position on home-court advantage in a potential second-round playoff series between the two teams.
James had a game-high 27 points and seven assists while Dwyane Wade added 14 points as the two All-Star players earned their first victory of the season against a team that has haunted them over the past few postseasons.
The Celtics (55-25) have knocked James out of the playoffs in two of the last three years while vanquishing Wade's Heat team in the first round last year.
"They are a really good team, we came out with a lot of energy and effort and it was really good to get a win," James told reporters. "We know it starts defensively. Anytime someone was beaten we stepped over and continued to fly around.
"When we defend at a high level we're tough to beat."
Paul Pierce scored a team-high 24 points and Kevin Garnett recorded 21 but Boston continued their step backward since parting ways with starting center Kendrick Perkins at the February trading deadline.
The Celtics, who have lost 10 of their last 19 games, will enter the playoffs looking decidedly different than the team that reached the NBA Finals in two of the past three seasons.
Boston jumped out to an early advantage over Miami in the first quarter but the Heat rallied to take a seven-point lead at halftime and expanded their edge from there.
Chris Bosh chipped in 13 points and eight rebounds for Miami who out-rebounded the Celtics 42-26 on the day.
(Reporting by Jahmal Corner in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue)